Thursday, June 27, 2013

It Died a Virgin

Out in the fizz pop crackle world of the internet, where every move, right and wrong, occupies a corner of infinity, can something ever truly die?  Can blogs die?  I hope so, because the death of something is an affirmation of its life.  For something to die means it had to have been living, had a body that breathed, wandered, giggled, fought and loved.  By killing my blog, lipstickeater, here and now, I hope to give it the flesh it always deserved.  And hopefully, a non-Christian, non-mystic, but witchy reality of afterlife.  The text pieces that are amassed here on this blogspot domain ain’t going nowhere, and by the very stillness of their stasis they form the flesh of a body that you and I can now confirm did inhale and exhale.  These words are the long white flowers I am laying at the grave of 
Five years ago, I began writing in/ as lipstickeater to stabilize the vulnerable molecules of my own body.  I was two years into being a gay divorcée, trying to figure out how and if I was going to be able to maintain being a femme without a butch husband: I had to learn to be tautologically feminine.  At the same time, I had recently, impulsively, brought to end a two-year negotiation with a prestigious university press over the publication of a book, a version of my doctoral thesis on black femininity.  I wanted to write a book that changed the direction of not only queer theory but also the discourse of critical theory itself.  I wrote purposefully in a chatty, gossipy voice; my footnotes were minimal because I believed that citations should be functional, referring only to work with which one actually engaged, rather than an bloated but dribbly farce of academic rigor.  (Anyone can do a JSTOR search and plug in citations for a billion footnotes.)  But the reviewers engaged by the press saw my aesthetic and conceptual choices as either laziness or inability (probably both) and in their rejections of the manuscript, condescendingly harped on my need to change my rainbowbabywoman into something other than what it was.  Mainly: books they had written.  Don’t believe their progressive poses: academic theorists, and particularly queer theorists, love to live the Oedipal narrative.  My book was not a traditional academic book; its title is rainbowbabywoman, for fuck’s sake. But the editor agreed with them, and like a girl who had gone on too many dates with a guy who fucked her hard while telling her she’s ugly, I decided to stop revising and submitting to that press.  So there I was, a single femme, an unpublished academic, still furiously feminist, but the body that had to hold those identities, my body, was just a cloud of electrons going quickly to ash. 
I am stretched next to the white flowers over this grave.  I always thought that writing could hold together my too disappearing flesh.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve been writing because I can’t sing, dance, or get pregnant.  I was a frontwoman without a band, a failed ballet dancer, and a transsexual who doesn’t believe transsexual surgery can solve my problems.  When I entered graduate school in 1997, I was determined to write a book that would not only express my particular tangle of racial and gender identities (I’ve always felt myself to be a black girl trapped in an Asian gay male’s body; I’ve been a feminist since I was 12 years old) but turn my own psyche into a live test for the theories of performativity which is my formal training.  rainbowbabywoman was to be a performance of the performativity of race and gender.  I laid out a detailed phenomenology of cross-identification, showing that to embody the race and gender that you are not requires a rigorous ethics of emotional, political and physical positions.  But this wasn’t just an idea; it was me, my body. 
The magic of these white flowers is that roots regenerate from their snipped feet, like lizards.  Eventually I left rainbowbabywoman gasping in its shoebox, and decided to write new theories through a blog.  I did so not because I wanted to give my sentences a consolation prize but because I sensed a certain kind of freedom and opportunity in digitalia as not platform, but medium of writing.  When a painter finishes a painting, it begins to exist.  If she has a gallery behind her and has a show or sells the thing, hooray, but she doesn’t have to have a show or sell in order for the painting to have a bodily integrity.  Whether anyone wants it or not, the finished painting simply is.  In direct contrast, a writer’s work doesn’t exist unless it is desired, not by a person, but people who proxy for conglomerates.  I’ve always found this to be profoundly unfair: my text pieces were always my girls, my daughters, my guardian fairies the moment I tapped the last period into being.  Then suddenly, with the advent of digitalia, it was suddenly possible for my textual pieces to become the little paintings they’ve always wanted to be.  Lipstickeater was born.  Blogspot allowed me to fuse text making to the labor of creating a body for myself.  To evoke my beloved Félix Guattari, it is an assemblage of my feminist femininity.  It taught me so much: to be fearless in vulnerability, to write and think quickly, to produce a rhythmic body of work rather than one ur-text, to believe in the power of the immaterial to accomplish material things. 
I wore white to match the white flowers.  I feel like a widow although it’s only a tail of me that’s died.  If I’ve been slowing down on writing in/ as lipstickeater, it’s because its flesh has been gradually congealing into its own infinite objectness.  I am always going to be all about femininity and feminism, but my daily body craved other forms.  I’m working on a book-length piece about pure feminism.  I want to think big, to write a manifesta, a daintier sequel to The Second Sex.  One might call it The Fourth Sex.  I call it Artificial Menstruation.  I also completed a book of stories and named her Lace Sick Bag. I’ve been supremely lucky to work with my new feminine feminist heroes, Patricia No and Antonia Pinter of Publication Studio Portland, who will bring Lace Sick Bag out in early September.  In terms of taking my digital prosemaking to the next level, I’m most proud of this collaboration because Publication Studio is doing the kind of work that is going to be the future of books.  When they publish a book, it is tripartite: an e-book, a free digital reading copy uploaded to their reading commons that can be annotated by readers, and a hand-made physical book.  They are turning books into electron clouds.  With their reading commons, they are infusing the often cold bodylessness of the internet with the tactile intimacy of touching a book.  And in elegantly converse symmetry, their production of the physical book is informed by the digital model of commerce and object-production.  The beautiful physical books are produced on demand: the book only comes into its paper body after a reader purchases it over the Publication Studio e-shop. The traditional publishing model is clunkily capitalistic: gobs of books are published, and then hawked to a public in whom desire must be whipped up, like pounds of cheap and cheaply-made clothes so desperate at H&M.  The physical books at Publication Studio are never wasted, never have to fear a death in remainder bins or cold dark storage, because they germinate from the reader’s desire. 
The words I’ll be writing from now on will sit at  Lipstickeater is dead, but maybe someday it'll come back to life.  But the good thing about being dead is that you can now become a ghost!  Lipstickeater will keep appearing at its whim on girlscallmurder, in its new ethereal form: hashtag.  I’m laying lipstickeater deep into the grave, but its desire keeps wafting up like a heavy perfume: the desire to hover, be granular, dissipate.  It creates a desire in me, too.  I make myself ready to be haunted, and my digital skin is growing pores like uteri.  I’m holding white flowers in mourning but I’m looking up at you because the earth is not where the body of lipstickeater is; it’s in you, out there, in the fizz crackle pop world of sparks and want. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Melody Catcher

What you are about to read began as a suicide note for a blog.  Then I noticed that I was already dead.  I hadn’t written in Lipstickeater for twelve months, left it (my digital-textual body) in a vegetative state.  I left it for dead. 
But if in this state, I suddenly wanted to compose a suicide must mean that I am not dead after all!  Suicide notes cannot be posthumous.  Joy!  I am not going to kill myself, but I am still a little suicidal. 
When you are unhappy with living and discover the notion that you can actually end your own life, it is scary but ironically, it returns to you a sense of yourself that everyone else wants to steal only so they can destroy.  In fact, there begins to gather a glamour about it in the very etymological sense of the word “glamour”: a dark haze over light.  Suicide becomes dangerously glamorous when you are ten years old and suddenly kids in the playground begin to torture you because you are obsessed with My Melody.  The years drag on from there as you get tortured for being homosexual before you know what homosexual is.  Then you conclude that all you want to do is disappear from the tangible world. 
As a sullen teenager, I was a stereotype of a suicidal kid.  The world hated me and I hated the world right back.  I was literally the kid smoking under the bleachers while the student government led a pep rally for the football players and popular kids in Guess jeans.  Decades later, as I figure out my place in my professional world—which is the rarified and small one of academia and then, even smaller and more rarified queer academia—I found out that I am still the kid smoking under the bleachers.  It sucked.  It sucked and it hurt.  And hurt me so much that I wanted to kill off the textual body that was ignored and belittled by my professional world. 
Sooner or later you discover Sylvia Plath, and you discover the idea of being suicidal. Plath is more than the gleaming frighteningly blond head stuck in an unlit gas oven.  In life, as a suicidal girl before she performed the act of suicide, she was a fiercely intellectual and doggedly emotional writer who used her pain as material and tool of her art.  What stopped the teenaged me from going on and through with suicidal attempts was the glamour of Plath the Suicidal.  “Being suicidal” is an identity that requires you to be alive.  It is characterized by a constant and nagging obsession with one’s own death, but one in which the death is also infinitely postponed, for if you go through with it, you are no longer suicidal; you are just dead. If you are “suicidal,” it means you are constantly haunted by thoughts of killing yourself, but you are living through it.  You write through it.  You remain “suicidal;” you don’t commit suicide. 
This week, fifty years ago, Sylvia Plath committed suicide.  Last week, I found myself listening to Britney Spears for hours even though I never listened to her during her ubiquity in the early 2000’s, even though I didn’t actually own a single album of hers.  I must be a true vintage whore because most things feel sweeter and brighter when they are at least five or six years too old.  (Britney circa 2001 or 2003 is now truly “Vintage”!!)  History is softer, more yielding, more yielding to one of my favorite feelings, yearning.  So it is with Britney.  Another blond who had suicide on the horizon.  I think of her as always just about to burst into another breakdown, but only just so.  Unlike Plath, Britney’s good at the teeter-totter of living.  She makes dull soulless dance music, where “soulless” means not a lack of interiority but SATANIC!!!  Satanic as in: the refusal of a dogmatic definition of inner life.  The voice that combines a satanic spirit and a temperamental computer.  It takes a lot to soften that voice into something vulnerable, but when it happens it might be really sweet.  Her face is just this side of excessive inbreeding.  Enough makeup (a lot) and she can tread between white trash rough diamond and plastic doll.  I’ve been listening to her 2003 album In the Zone on repeat while struggling through some academic prose on embodiment.  Obviously she doesn’t have the gift of language that Plath had, but In the Zone is kind of like Plath’s Ariel.  It is high-gloss style confessional music that simultaneously signals the end of confessional music.  Music that is all about you yet nothing about you.  I purchased remixes of “Toxic” on iTunes and it sounded so right for the story I was working on.  I wrote the following lines:

Afterwards, I went on ebay and found exactly the same old tour t-shirt I made my character wear. My character isn’t me, but after I wrote him to life I wanted to bend my flesh closer to his outlines.  I get nervous.  We’ll see.  We’ll see.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

this is me...then (Black Mistress Tina)

            I’ve been working out my body.  Not as in the 90s, when I believed that the thing to do with my femininity was to bury it under mounds of unnatural muscle.  No, these past twelve months have been about living in the 90s that I should have lived: working on getting my body to be the performative connector between my identity as girl and that as writer.  I am in the process of leaving Joony Schecter behind for a new identity that I’ve already begun building: A hausfrau and BDSM dominatrix of the emotions: BLACK MISTRESS TINA.  
            Black Mistress Tina is a hausfrau and BDSM dominatrix of the emotions.  The name is an homage to Debi Mazar’s character in Spike Lee’s 1996 film “Girl 6,” which is herself homage to Bettie Page and to the hard romantic pragmatism of a femme.  I have fallen in love with a man and we decided to cohabitate.  He is also a wonderful electronic musician.  One of his early gestures of winning me over was listing me as his “muse” in the description of a piece that he produced last summer.  But because my man Roddy is a modern man, he views “muse” as consonant with “partner.”  Historically, “muse” has been understood as a pure and passive body that exists solely to submit to the authoritative genius of the “artist.”  Of course, this history has been also used as a tool of the patriarchy, in which “muse” equals “woman” and “artist” is “man.”  From the beginning, Roddy saw me as a muse because he understood my femininity, but with a definite anti-patriarchal stance.  (This is partly why I love him.) 
I then worked as muse on his “Violets,” a nine-minute sound piece in which all the samples that Roddy used as raw material came from me.  I was a traditional muse insofar as I was literally objectified: Roddy recorded my grunts, whoops, hisses, wails, and even humming Culture Club’s “Miss Me Blind.”  This process made me feel simultaneously troubled and elated; I was cut up into voice samples, made into a thing.  It was cutting of a different kind.  I saw my body fluttering helplessly on the cutting board and watching Roddy transplant a different pulse into it made the heart still in my own body beat hard and happy.  A piece of my body—my voice—was ripped from me and snipped and pieced together like a rabbit fur coat. I just snuggled in the luxuriousness of it all.  And when it came for Roddy to present the piece, he insisted that I be given credit as a collaborator, and asked me to come up with a bodily performance to go with the piece.
            Which led to “The Rabbit Catcher.” This time, the work began with me: I’ve wanted to write a mourning piece for Whitney Houston ever since her untimely death last year.  But whenever I sat in front of my computer, all I could say was nothing.  I had the same reaction to her death as Mariah Carey: “I’m almost incapable of talking about it.”  So “Mourning and Melancholia: Whitney Houston” sat unfinished but for the quote from Mariah.  In the meantime, I got an idea to adapt one of my favorite poems, Sylvia Plath’s “The Rabbit Catcher,” as a performance piece.  I became fixed with the gesture of singing a song while eating my own hair.  I wrote a score for it, and Roddy and I set about thinking about what sound should come out of me. My job was to again provide Roddy with a stockpile of sonic raw material.  Immediately, I felt that the sound should be a recording of me being possessed by Whitney Houston.  I decided that I would transcribe in textual form all the sounds—including not only Whitney’s voice but the instruments—in the epic 10 minute remix of Whitney’s cover of “I’m Every Woman.”  Roddy would record me doing a “flat” reading of those texts, which he would re-cut into what he calls an “aural bed” in which the audience—and I—can luxuriate.  As he played his sound piece, I would then perform live another version of the transcribed text.  We performed a sketch version of the piece this past December at the Apexart.  We’ll perform an expanded and fully formed version in May.  But in the meantime: enjoy my new body, al dente.  

The Rabbit Catcher from Roddy Schrock on Vimeo.

Friday, January 11, 2013

MacArthur Park: Jennifer Ehle in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Let’s lay things down sharply: “Zero Dark Thirty” is pro-torture propaganda.  The director Kathryn Bigelow, writer Mark Boal (who are also the film’s producers), and lead actors Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke have all come out in ill-informed and illogical defense of their film.  They misunderstand the critique of the film as endorsing torture as only responding to their depiction of torture.  But the film doesn’t condone torture because it visualizes torture.  In fact, its depiction of torture, and in particular, waterboarding, is actually too softballed in this age of wild filmic violence—there are worse, more disturbing scenes in a “Die Hard” film.  To make a critique of torture, these scenes ought to be in at least Abel Ferrera land.  Furthermore, the film’s lead character participates in torture with no verbalized or bodily remorse; it is clear that she believes in its efficacy.  In fact, in two separate sequences, the screenplay actually puts into words this sentiment: a detainee practically begs the inquisitors to ask him questions, to which he vows he will answer truthfully because, he says, he wants no more torture; a CIA top gun informs his boss that all the information about the location of Osama Bin Laden (which turn out to be correct) were “obtained from detainees.”  To make things worse, Bigelow and Boal have contradicted themselves, condescendingly brushing off criticism with the tired old claim that film is fiction, but claiming, both in interviews and in the opening title card of the film itself, that the film is “journalistic”—that it is part non-fiction created from classified information.  A fiction with claims and ambitions to be political fact is creeping fast toward propaganda.
            It is difficult to think about aesthetics of a film that is in fact, not a piece of art but propaganda.  Thus it was hard to see one of my sentimental favorite actresses, Jennifer Ehle, show up in “Zero Dark Thirty” as a CIA agent.  To see my beloved 90s Lizzie Bennett serving the cause of a neo-Leni Riefenstahl!  But I suppose the mark of a truly great actress is her ability to reveal the limitations of the filmic material with the force of her body.  It is work that is not done by most of the cast.  Take for instance, its lead actor.  Jessica Chastain, as CIA agent Maya who says she “will kill Bin Laden,” doesn’t so much interpret a role as embody every patriarchal quality that is currently valued in America: bullheadedness, cultural and historical myopia, emotional numbness.  Her Maya is sorority girl as American hero.  The scenes in which she displays her supposed toughness—screaming shrilly at her boss, referring to herself as a “motherfucker” in front of a government top dog—are laughable.  It is hard to take this character seriously when her method of getting what she wants is to whine as loudly as possible, and even more so when she discusses serious matters in a Delta Delta Delta Can I Help Ya Help Ya Help Ya vocal cadence.  Why have so many people claimed her as a feminist hero?  A feminist is not a just a human being with a vagina.  A feminist is someone who uses her mind, soul, and body to exert revolutionary force against patriarchal traditions.  A character like Maya is no different from Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, women who have claimed personal agency and institutional power by becoming lapdogs of the patriarchy.
            Ehle’s character is distinguished as an opposite of Maya: she seems at once more pragmatically focused and more easily distracted.  The pragmatism is a matter of representation; it’s written in the dialogue (she tells Maya not to obsess over Bin Laden and concentrate rather on preventing terrorist attacks).  It’s the quality of scattered distraction that Ehle herself brings to the part with her physicality.  Ehle’s trademark is her eyes, which for a white actress are vaguely Asiatic, and always look like they are laughing.  She used them to create an iconic character of steely logic and wary playfulness in “Pride and Prejudice” (1995).  In “Zero Dark Thirty,” the laughing eyes dart frenetically, in direct contrast to the often unblinking, concentrated (and creepy) stare of Chastain.  Ehle’s costumes also mark the contrast between her and Chastain.  While Chastain stays in dark pantsuits and neutral tops, and no jewelry, Ehle wears pearls, skirts, stilettos, chiffony and ruffly blouses, and a variety of hairdos (loose waves, retro beehive bun, and a bouncy Gidget-esque ponytail in her final scene).  I’d contend that Ehle is the film’s sole embodiment of femininity.  When she lands a highly-prized informant, she prepares for the meeting by baking him a cake!  The scene in which Ehle is icing gleefully is a treasure.  She seems to be getting ready for a date with a lover.  There is something simultaneously disturbing and enchanting about a CIA agent who views an enemy contact as a romantic interest.  At least that is the way Ehle plays her: waiting for the contact to arrive, she is all furrowed brows and jittery jibbering.  We feel anxious for her: what if she gets stood up on prom night??!!  She’d have to leave her cake out in the rain!!  When she sees him finally approach, those black eyes of hers laugh again, and well up with happy tears.  She asks the security guys to stand down at the gates because “This is special.”  The special date, though, begins to feel ominous, and all the more so because Ehle’s excitement and giddiness is so palpable.  We know something bad will happen, and it does: the contact turns out to be a suicide bomber.  As he gets out of the car into Ehle’s welcoming, open eyes, the film pulls back into a wide aerial shot and: BOOM!!  Ehle’s punishment (her “Just Desserts,” quipped my partner sympathetically) is for her femininity. The lesson, in line with a particularly American patriarchy, is that femininity should be reserved for the personal realm.  In work, especially if your work involves matters of state and foreign relations, you must be as non-gendered as possible; hyper-masculine aggression if you must.  Ehle’s character doesn’t so much use her femininity in her dealing with the enemy as she simply is feminine. The female character that performs femininity in high-level intelligence work must die, while the one who performs not so much masculinity but anti-femininity, is rewarded with heroic accolades.  This pedagogy against femininity, though, is again purely in the realm of representation: the screenplay sketches out the outlines of two opposing female “types.”  But it is in performativity, the actresses’ wearing those outlines, that the real lessons are learned.  Ehle endowed her character with her individual and charming femininity, and thus sacrificed her remarkable perfomative ability to Bigelow’s violent propagandistic intent, just as surely as her character sacrifices herself for her country’s cause.  I never cry out at scenes of violence in films, but when that bomb went off and I knew that “Jennifer Ehle” had indeed thrown herself onto the landmine of patriarchy, I cried out.  The bomb sound was so loud that it muted my lone loud cry.